In recent years double-action revolvers have enjoyed something of a renaissance. While they are no longer the first choice of law enforcement, wheelguns have made something of a comeback in the 21st Century. In the late 1990s, your choices (outside of the used market) were more or less limited to Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and Taurus. Today, Colt is making revolvers again, as is Kimber. Charter Arms and Dan Wesson revolvers have returned to production, and low-cost imports are available from European American Armory and Armscor.
Revolver Training and Resources
If you’re new to shooting, though, or are inexperienced at shooting a revolver, you may have realized that while they’re easy to load and unload, reloading them quickly takes some practice. Worse, you may encounter some difficulty finding, in your area, an instructor who is familiar with them. As a revolver shooter, you’re in the minority, and a great many shooters have come up never having touched a wheelgun. You may even be told, as I was some twenty years ago, to “forget the revolvers and get yourself a Glock, kid.” (I never heeded that advice, for what it’s worth.) Now, Glocks are fine pistols, but someone telling you to buy something else doesn’t help you learn to use the gun you have.
Fortunately, there are more resources than ever before for new shooters.
Professional instruction is more widely available than it ever has been as well. As of this writing, you may find yourself stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This isn’t ideal, but you can still practice weapons handling at home.
First, if you’re going to do this, you need to focus on safety.
You not only need to verify that the firearms you’re going to be using are unloaded, it would be best to separate them completely from any live ammunition. Do not put live rounds anywhere you may inadvertently grab them during loading and dry-fire practice.
Additionally, I highly recommend getting yourself some dummy cartridges.
The most common brand is the Snap Cap from A-Zoom, but there are others available from a variety of online retailers. These allow you to safely practice loading, unloading, and dry-firing your gun without the risk of a negligent discharge. For your own safety (and the safety of others), the only place you should practice your reloads with live ammunition is the range.
There are a great many articles and tutorials out there which cover reloading the revolver right-handed. For example, this vintage training video from the Indiana State Police, demonstrating their new-fangled Safariland speedloaders:
What about Left Hand Revolver Reloading?
For obvious reasons, doing a left hand revolver reload is not simply a matter of mirroring what a right-handed shooter does. (It’s worth noting that Charter Arms has a line of “Southpaw” revolvers which are basically mirror-images of their standard guns. In this case, simply reversing what a right-handed shooter does is the way to go.) I will walk you through the method I have learned, and you can decide for yourself if it works for you. This should work on just about any double-action revolver with a swing-out cylinder.
Step 1: When the revolver is empty, pull it back in to your chest.
Use your left thumb to actuate the cylinder release. On most guns, it is on the left side of the frame, just above the grip. On Ruger revolvers (and the Kimber K6S), you push the button in. On most Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Charter Arms revolvers, you push the button forward. On Colt and Armscor guns, you have to pull the latch to the rear.
The Taurus Raging Bull revolver features a S&W-style latch on the frame and a Dan Wesson style latch on the crane. In this instance, you need only use your left thumb on the frame latch and your right index finger on the crane latch.
The Smith and Wesson Bodyguard revolver, the one with the polymer frame, also has a unique cylinder release. It is a button on the top-rear section of the frame, making it equally accessible for left- and right-handed shooters.
Finally, you don’t see them much anymore, but for years there were a number of inexpensive revolvers, often in rimfire calibers, which didn’t have a cylinder release latch at all. On these, the ejector rod functioned as a pin which held the cylinder in place. You would pull it forward, removing it from the gun, and this would allow the cylinder to open. Then you would use it as a punch to eject the spent casings one at a time. This is slow enough that it almost defeats the purpose of having a swing-out cylinder, but it was done primarily as a cost-saving measure.
Step 2: With your right thumb, push the cylinder open and hold it there.
Step 3: Grasp the gun with your right hand, holding it through the frame.
Step 4: Eject the brass with the ejector rod.
There are multiple ways you can do this. One method is to use the index finger of your right hand to push down on the rod.
Low-pressure cartridges, like .38 Special, fired from guns with full-length ejector rods, will almost always eject easily. There are times when high-pressure magnum rounds can stick to the chambers a little more firmly.
As you can see in the below photograph, short-barreled revolvers like this Ruger LCR have correspondingly short ejector rods.
I recommend that you practice this, both with dummy cartridges and at the range with live ammunition, to see which method works best for you. Using the heel or palm of your left hand will work with any typical double-action revolver, but is a bit slower. Using the index finger of your right hand is faster but may not provide 100% reliable extraction from some guns and/or with some ammunition.
As a side note, you don’t have to hit the ejector rod particularly hard in either case. This was, apparently, the subject of some internet drama recently, with people insisting that you’ll cut your hand or bend the ejector rod. Bending the ejector rod can effectively render a revolver inoperable, so it is a real concern. Make sure you’re hitting the ejector rod straight-on to minimize the risk of this happening. Also, and again, you don’t have to hit it that hard. A quick, firm tap will do it. A little range practice will give you a feel for just how much pressure you need to apply, and you can be firm without abusing the weapon.
If you consistently have difficulty extracting or ejecting brass, and if changing ammunition or cleaning the weapon doesn’t seem to help, you should consult a gunsmith or the gun’s manufacturer. There may be a problem with your gun.
Step 5. Rotate the gun forward so that the muzzle is pointing downward.
Step 6: With this left hand revolver reloading method, you’ll be using your strong hand to actually reload the gun.
There are several types of speedloaders available, but the most common are from HKS and Safariland. They function differently, but this technique works the same with either. In either case, it helps to grasp the loader by the body, with your fingertips on the cartridges themselves. This helps you align them with the chambers a bit more easily.
STEP 7: Insert the cartridges into the chambers and release them.
STEP 8: When the cartridges are in the chambers, let go of the speedloader and let it fall to the ground.
STEP 9: You’re all set!
It takes a lot longer to describe the left hand revolver reloading procedure than it does to actually reload your gun this way. With a little practice, you should be able to do this without difficulty. With more practice, you can become quite fast, and reloading will be second-nature to you.
In my opinion, you should strive to get to the point where you can reload your gun without looking at it.
This takes more practice, however. If you find yourself having trouble with the left hand revolver reload, at the range, or especially in a defensive scenario, by all means, look at the weapon to figure out what the problem is. It’s better to take your eyes off the threat for a moment than to continue to watch it while fumbling your reload.
There is a firearms manipulation school of thought commonly referred to as “bringing the gun up into your workspace”. This method works quite well with semiautomatic pistols and rifles. It has you hold the weapon in front of your face while executing the reload so that if you need to glance at it, you can do so quickly and without having to look down. It also works if you have to diagnose a malfunction.
There are some very experienced instructors who recommend doing this with a revolver as well, and I would encourage you to try it for yourself. You may find it awkward to hold the gun muzzle-down while also holding it up in front of your face, but this may not be an issue for you. Whichever technique you settle on, remember that it will get easier through consistency and repetition. As always, you should seek out competent firearms instruction when conditions permit. Practice is good, but a little professional training can go a long way.
Wheelguns, read more about ’em.
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